Google and Levi’s Smart Jacket

Google and Levi’s showed off last week a new joint project: a $350 smart jean jacket. While this jacket literally puts tech on your sleeve, it does it in a subtle way that doesn’t require putting another screen on your body. In doing so, it offers a glimpse of what smart fabrics can do and of the evolution of the wearables market — one in which consumers won’t have to wear a clunky accessory that screams high tech.

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The smart Commuter jacket, which was introduced at SXSW in Austin, is aimed at those who bike to work. It has technology woven into its fibers and allows users to take phone calls, get directions and check the time by tapping and swiping their sleeves. That delivers information to them through their headphones so they can keep their eyes on the road without having to fiddle with a screen.

Its smart fibers are washable; they’re powered by a sort of smart cufflink that you’ll have to remove when you wash the jacket. The cufflink has a two-day battery life.

While the idea of a smart jean jacket may not appeal to everyone (especially on a hot summer day), the existence of such a jacket is telling about where the market may be going.

“I think that the commuter jacket from Levi’s is really perfect because it’s focused on a single consumer audience. It has the cyclist in mind and is targeting what their needs are,” said Sidney Morgan-Petro, retail editor at trend forecasting firm WGSN.

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She said that what makes the Commuter jacket different from other wearables — and even other smart clothing — is that it’s not necessarily marketing the tech as its main feature, but rather using it to solve problems that everyday people have.

Many smartwatches and even other smart clothing can feel like solutions in search of a problem to solve. The Commuter jacket, she said, stands out as a type of wearable for a more everyday consumer who may not be that interested in the tech but likes the practical features that come with a stylish jacket.

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